Man Up; Strip Down

Unpacking masculinity, one body at a time.

"In patriarchal culture males are not allowed simply to be who they are and to glory in their unique identity. Their value is always determined by what they do. In an antipatriarchal culture males do not have to prove their value and worth. They know from birth that simply being gives them value, the right to be cherished and loved."

—bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

What is masculinity? As a carelessly employed concept it is something idealized and strived for, something vilified and critiqued. That is, as a concept it is problematic, right?

We’re engaging people whose gender identity maybe aligns more closely with the loose bundle of terms, traits, behaviors, styles, and characteristics that are typically associated with the masculine. This description is not intentionally nebulous, but the product of the observation that, when asked in conversation or in passing or in the middle of focused discussion, every man we’ve spoken to has difficulty expressing what exactly the term ‘masculine’ refers to, and yet, seemingly inconsistent with this absence of clear expression, is certain that they do not meet all the qualifications this term might imply. They feel they are too fat, too skinny, too short, too hairy, not hairy enough, too bulky, too scrawny, too feminine, too emotional, too stupid, to cerebral, too lacking in grace, too lacking in authority or presence; the list goes on and on.

This all might easily, and over-simplistically, be passed over as a simple matter of self-confidence, or lack thereof, in each one of these “candidates” for masculinity. But isn’t it also that this term itself is vague and protean, one that demands from its aspirants, enthusiastic aspirants or no, some level of self-doubt and self-hate, even as it suggests, to those who fit comfortably under its pervasive shadow, some sense of entitled authority (real or imagined; conscious or unconscious) over those who find themselves more assuredly outside the scope of the term’s definition?

What is the connection between the metaphor, this symbol of the masculine form and our actual bodies, the real and physical manifestation of the differences and varieties of what is internally and externally recognized as “masculine” or “male”? What are the implications of someone identifying with the notion that they are not, or might be not considered, by themselves at least, fully fledged as “masculine” yet still often voicing themselves, acting out in ways that, consciously or not, evoke their privilege as men?

Ultimately, we want to start to catalog the perhaps infinitely various ways we can be masculine. We want to show that this term, as a part of an often problematic concept, can be toxically limiting but also maybe, through earnest and loving conversation, can be perhaps rescued, resuscitated, made into something inclusive that expresses the pain, the responsibility, the opportunities of being “masculine” and use this understanding to strengthen our community.

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